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ukraine-arms

Members of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces examine new armaments in Kyiv on March 9, 2022. (Photo: Genya Savilov/AFP via Getty Images)

Lack of Debate Most Worrying Aspect of Congressional Approval of Ukraine Arms Package

Bay State reps and senators support providing $40 billion in mostly military aid on the quiet—risking nuclear war alongside accelerating economic crises at home and abroad.

Jason Pramas

The Massachusetts congressional delegation—currently nine representatives and two senators—is fairly unusual in the American political landscape of 2022 in being composed of members of a single party, the Democrats. Only five other states can make that claim (Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island), while nine states have all-Republican delegations (Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming), according to Smart Politics.

Is there no problem with giving so much money to a foreign power engaged in a regional conflict, however justified, when there are so many human needs going unmet here in the United States?

This means that, broadly speaking, the Bay State is left-leaning and elects left-leaning politicians to represent it in Congress. In practice, however, the actual voting record of the Mass delegation ranges considerably from center-right (e.g., voting to increase military spending) to something akin to European social democracy (e.g., voting for the child tax credit) depending on which issue is under consideration…and allowing for the politicians taking into account what the Germans call the zeitgeist, "the spirit of the age," and voting for things that have popular support at any given moment.

Thus it's common for members of the delegation to disagree with each other on key votes backed by Democratic congressional leadership and Pres. Joe Biden. Such disagreement was on full display last August when the Biden administration pulled American troops out of Afghanistan and Mass Rep. Seth Moulton joined with Republican colleague Rep. Peter Meijer (R – Mich) in leading a mission to Kabul during the pullout while heavily criticizing it. His fellow Mass reps and senators hewed "closer to the party line" on the withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to Politico—with Mass Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a veteran of the disastrous war against the ultimately victorious Taliban in that country, even appearing on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360" to defend the controversial retreat.

Such public debate among members of a political party is healthy and is a sign of a (more or less) functioning democracy. It is therefore behavior that should be encouraged—particularly in a one-party state like Massachusetts. Not just the fact of a range of opinion on key issues by the Commonwealth's congressional delegation, but open and wide-ranging debate between its members in the agora of the press and social media. That way, even on issues where the delegation votes in lockstep with leadership, you can see real politicking happening in ways that affect the final outcome—sometimes mitigating damage from what would otherwise be problematic decisions by the Democrats or the federal government as a whole.

So what then am I to make of the recent unanimous vote by the Mass delegation in favor of H.R.7691, the "Additional Ukraine Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2022?" Signed into law by President Biden on May 21, the act provides $40 billion for weapons, intelligence assistance, and humanitarian aid for the government of Ukraine to defend itself against the ongoing Russian military invasion of its sovereign territory. 

The full support for a Biden-administration initiative by an all-Democratic delegation is not surprising. Particularly in a period when the Dems control both houses of Congress (at least technically) and the White House. That happens fairly frequently—both on votes that I, as an observer to the left of the Democrats, consider good and votes that I think are bad. 

What's strange about the vote for this largest of what is already several aid packages to Ukraine totalling at least $54 billion as of late May, according to the New York Times (paywall), is the almost total lack of public discussion and debate about it by members of a congressional delegation that includes politicians who have been critical of the outrageously huge US military budget and have fought hard for increasing the budget for domestic social programs benefiting working families instead.

Yet is there no criticism to be leveled by the Mass delegation against a $40 billion package that is going to pump far more cash into the treasuries of major American military contractors than it is into desperately needed humanitarian aid for the Ukrainian people? 

Is there no problem with giving so much money to a foreign power engaged in a regional conflict, however justified, when there are so many human needs going unmet here in the United States?

Is there no risk in providing bigger, more long-range, and more powerful weapons systems to the Ukrainian military when their use could trigger a nuclear response from Russia that would lead swiftly and inevitably to a global conflagration that would end human civilization?

Apparently not.

It was those questions and many others that led me to ask all the Mass reps and senators for statements on why they voted for the aid package in an accompanying DigBoston article, "Every Mass Congressperson Voted in Favor of $40 Billion for Ukraine, We Asked Them Why." And other than Sen. Warren's throwaway final comment, "Congress must also exercise strong oversight and demand a full accounting of these taxpayer dollars"—something that she knows perfectly well is not going to happen with this or any aid package to Ukraine given bipartisan support for military victory by that country rather than a more sane drive for a diplomatic end to the war—not one member of the supposedly left-leaning Mass delegation uttered the slightest peep of criticism against giving a tremendous amount of money to the US military-industrial complex and only secondarily to the Ukrainian people. Including Rep. Ayanna Pressley in the statement made by a staffer on her behalf for my Dig piece that first said "[t]he Congresswoman voted in support of the bill in order to send an unprecedented amount of life-saving humanitarian aid and refugee assistance to address the crisis unfolding in Ukraine," as if one could vote for the nice part of the measure but not the larger military part; then went on to say that she was "concerned about the dangers of military escalation" and was "committed to using every diplomatic tool available to save lives, avoid further military conflict, and work towards a negotiated solution to this crisis." But those sentiments are still not critical of the weapons-heavy aid package that is literally a cause of the very military escalation that the staffer said Pressley's concerned about and are only now being publicly expressed after her vote in favor of it.  

And how tremendous an amount of money is being spent? Political cartoonist Ted Rall produced a whole list of comparisons to give readers an easy way to understand what else the US government could fund with $40 billion right here at home—ranging from "$72,000 to every homeless person" to repairing "almost all of the 220,000 bridges in the United States that need to be repaired and replace all of the 79,500 that need to be replaced."

Rall drove his point home with this passage:

"What if, for some strange reason, we don't want to use that $40 billion to help our own people right here at home, one out of nine of whom is officially poor—some of whom are actually starving? While the inclination to shovel money at other countries while so many of our own citizens are suffering is nearly impossible to understand, some people (the President, several hundred members of Congress) have such a mindset and therefore must be addressed. 

"If we're looking for a country in dire need of, and richly deserving of, $40 billion, we need look no further than Afghanistan. 

"Afghanistan, which the US brutally occupied for 20 years after invading without just cause, is suffering from the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world. Half its population—20 million people—is suffering from'acute hunger,' according to the UN. The nation collapsed because the US pulled the plug on the economy when it withdrew, imposed draconian economic sanctions in a fit of spiteful pique and seized $7 billion in Afghanistan government funds. Biden has promised a little aid, though none has shown up in Kabul."

The Massachusetts congressional delegation is certainly one of the best fielded by any state when it comes to supporting human needs and human rights, but I think they really blew it with this uncritical vote in support of a highly flawed aid package to Ukraine—focusing more on military than humanitarian aid and spending too much money that should be going to help solve our many domestic humanitarian crises instead. Fortunately, compared to many other congressional delegations, they are more responsive to public criticism.

So I recommend that Mass readers contact their representatives and senators immediately (via this handy congress.gov page) and tell them: Yes to humanitarian aid to Ukraine. Yes to diplomatic solutions to end the Russian invasion of Ukraine. No to escalating and unchecked military aid to Ukraine. No to any moves by the US and NATO that could lead to a general war with Russia and a nuclear war to end us all. And I would love it if readers in the other 49 states would contact their congresspeople with the same message.

Only swift action by voters here in the Bay State and around the country can start to move our nation's Ukraine policy toward some just and sane resolution of the present conflict with Russia. One that does its utmost to relieve the suffering of the Ukrainian people while remembering the needs of the American people in a time of lingering pandemic, rampant inflation, ecological disaster, and a declining standard of living.

Failure to act means continuing a war that gets more dangerous for humanity with each passing day … leaving all economic considerations aside, important as they are. And I can't believe that anyone—least of all the Mass congressional delegation—really wants to let the imaginary perfect Ukrainian victory over Russia be the enemy of the good of a future for our species.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Jason Pramas

Jason Pramas is executive editor and associate publisher at DigBoston. Executive director of Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Former founder and editor/publisher of Open Media Boston. 2018 & 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Award Winner.

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